By Jolee Lautaret
Reno, Nevada — There is no such thing as a sure bet in the world of rodeo but Jill Welsh came darn close on Saturday night, June 27 at the 96th Reno Rodeo.
The Parker, Ariz., cowgirl came into the Championship Round with a huge lead, more than half a second, in the average as she chased down her first set of the coveted silver spurs annually given to the Reno Rodeo Champ. Half a second in barrel racing is an eternity but sometimes the most monumental task of all is to leave the barrels standing.
Welsh knows this well. Riding her great palomino gelding Custer, she has battled more than her share of penalty blues through the years. The lightning quick son of PESI stallion—and barrel racing legend—Frenchmans Guy out of the Dash ta Fame mare Dashing to Fame, is super quick in his turns and he loves his job.
Welsh has battled bigger demons than the occasional plus five in the last three years since purchasing the gelding from his trainer, Rachel Myllymaki. She has faced, and beaten, cancer . . . twice.
Now, with her health recovered, Welsh has been on a tear in June, winning the Livermore Rodeo two weeks ago before coming to Reno. At the time, Welsh said she couldn't wait to get to the huge kick-off of the busy summer run, a rodeo run on a WPRA standard pattern set inside a huge arena at the Reno-Livestock Events Center.
"I'm super excited for Reno. It's a big open pen with no barrels close to the walls," she laughed at the time.
Now she's laughing all the way to the bank. Welsh set the pace for her big win early in the rodeo, posting the only sub-seventeen second run in the slack first go runs. Her time of 16.88 seconds was huge, taking the win by better than three tenths. With her second round time of 17.04, Welsh won fifth in the super competitive second go and carried a big lead into the short go on Saturday night.
With second ranked Kaley Bass returning to Florida instead of Reno, Welsh's closest competitor was 2014 Wrangler National Finalist Kassidy Dennison, the New Mexico talent who won fifth here a year ago.
Dennison ran first on Saturday, stopping the clock at 17.44 seconds, leaving Welsh breathing room if she could go clean once again.
Running fourth in the finals, Welsh and Custer proved that they are a team to reckon with this summer, healthy, whole and incredibly fast. Their 17.22 second short go run was their slowest but it slammed the door on anyone else's chance to catch them for the title.
Ivy Conrado would post the rodeo's sixth 16 second run as the next gunner, swiping the round win from Welsh with a 16.93 to climb from fourth in the average to second.
Welsh's three run total of 51.14 seconds cleared the field by .36 seconds and is the fastest three-run time in Reno since Lindsay Sears and Martha clocked in at 51.11 in 2009.
Welsh was the only cowgirl to cash checks in every round, pushing her total haul from Nevada to $11,958.
The icing on the cake? Her mom flew in to watch the win.
"My mom finally got to fly in to see us run," says Welsh. Usually, mom Sandra stays home and holds down the fort at the family's business in the Colorado River community of Parker while Welsh and brother Kyle hit the rodeo road. "And my brother was there helping me."
"My mom was so excited to be there!"
When asked what she's planning to do with the prestigious spurs, Welsh admits to not having a plan.
"Right now, my brother and I just keep staring at them!" she jokes.
For more information on the Reno Rodeo, visit them on-line at www.renorodeo.com.
1. Jill Welsh, French First Watch, 16.88 seconds, $3,386
2. Sherrylynn Johnson, Leading Tradition, 17.20, $2,902
3. Kassidy Dennison, Sierra Hall of Fame, 17.31, $2,419
4. Ivy Conrado, 17.33, $1,854
5. Kaley Bass, Wonders Cowboy Dan, 17.33, $1,854
6. Barbara Merrill, Famous Jayda, 17.35, $1,129
7. Shelby Herrmann, 17.35, $1,129
8. Callie DuPerier, Rare Dillion, 17.36, $564
9. Calyssa Thomas, TRcashenbadger, 17.36, $564
10. Ruth Haislip, Famous Scarlett, 17.39, $322
1. Mary Walker, Perculatin, 16.88, $3,386
2. Cassidy Kruse, JKR Assured Win, 16.93, $2,902
3. Bass, 16.94, $2,419
4. Sarah McDonald, Fame Fling N Bling, 16.98, $2,096
5. Welsh, 17.04, $1,612
6. Pam Capper, Sheza Smooth Flight, 17.13, $1,290
7. Christine Laughlin, Guys Six Pack to Go, 17.16, $806
8. Katelyn McLeod, Kellies Chick, 17.16, $806
9. Jaime Hinton, OJS Tex Wood, 17.19, $403
10. Richman, 17.19, $403
Average—Short Round Qualifiers
1. Welsh, 33.92 seconds on two head
2. Bass, 34.27
3. Dennison, 34.54
4. Conrado, 34.57
5. Shelby Herrmann, 34.60
6. Richman, 34.61
7. McDonald, 34.62
8. Thomas, 34.64
9. Duperier, 34.67
10. Kruse, 34.68
11. Haislip, 34.73
12. Richardson, Doda Flit, 34.76
1. Ivy Conrado, 16.93, $2,508
2. Jill Welsh, 17.22, $1,881
3. Ruth Haislip, 17.26, $1,254
4. Sarah Rose McDonald, 17.34, $627
1. Jill Welsh, 51.14 on three runs, $5,079
2. Ivy Conrado, 51.50, $4,353
3. Sarah Rose McDonald, 51.96, $3,628
4. Kassidy Dennison, 51.98, $3,144
5. Ruth Haislip, 51.99, $2,419
6. Christina Richman, 52.06, $1,935
7. Cassidy Kruse, 52.19, $1,451
8. Calyssa Thomas, 52.33, $967
9. Carley Richardson, 56.83, $726
10. Callie DuPerier, 56.95, $484
Total Money Won
Laughlin/K. McLeod, $806